about the Author

Born in Schwarzheide in 1946. Completed his general High School education in 1963 and began an apprenticeship as a Machine Mechanic. In January 1964, he failed to escape to West Berlin, was severely injured and later on arrested and detained in a Stasi prison. After his release from jail, he completed his apprenticeship and worked in various fields. He was granted a visa and immigrated to West Berlin in 1975. Working as a long-distance truck driver he was issued a transit ban by the GDR because of his role in trying to help others escape. After living abroad for many years, he now currently lives and works in Berlin.

Picture top right: physical identification of the Stasi Photos by Karl-Heinz Richter
Picture
bottom right: Karl-Heinz Richter 1964 - Baltic-Sea

Author's personal remarks not found in the book

This is a story of quiet farewells, dreams, resistance and escape. This story is an authentic autobiography. This book is dedicated to all those, who like myself, suffered under the communist dictatorship. My story describes the life of a young Berlin boy, who like so many others, had to live out his youth under the constant watchful eye of a terrorizing state. As a boy I lived in a city filled with contradictions- divided but open, between two worlds and two systems.
As a boy I did not truly understand these contradictions, I just knew that life on both sides of the wall was completely different. My transition from a confused, pensive boy to a dissident is the journey found in this book -nothing else. I have no desire to point fingers, to make myself a hero or to blame anyone- my words are my story. I only want people to think about what they've read.
Why write a book? The reasons are simple - we forget too quickly. The victims of that time are often ridiculed and undermined. There is little appreciation of dissidents especially from some former GDR citizens who don't like being confronted with the truth. They don't want to see the reflection of the past in the mirror.
I also want to dedicate the book to all the mothers and fathers who suffered so much because their daughters and sons couldn't and wouldn't live within this system.
A special dedication goes out to my mother, who by her courageous efforts showed that it is still possible and necessary to demonstrate civil courage in a totalitarian state. I was spared a long and grueling imprisonment because of her strength and determination. Despite her health problems my mother never gave up fighting for me. Angrily and with spite, my mother went to fight the hopeless battle against the powerful people at the top. Today I still sit back with amazement and admiration when I think of the fight my mother put up. A simple woman, who because of her dedication unintentionally became a hero. I thought about my father during every second of writing this book. Only now at the age of almost 60, do I realize what he must have gone through. I miss his love and camaraderie still.

Opposition, a privilege of the youth, was not favorably seen back then. Those who resisted were brought down by any means possible. At first, certain political cadres tried to retune the voices of opposition but when this didn't work the communist leaders did everything in their power to quell the opposition. Dissidents were publicly vilified and classified as enemies of socialism. Many dissidents could not withstand the pressure and submitted to the socialist leaders and system. But there were also those who did not want to give in and my story shows that there were many who were willing to risk everything, absolutely everything, to break free from these chains. The story also illustrates how those who did not agree with: the regime, the political rhetoric, the indoctrination, the spying families and neighbors, were unable to live out their dreams like they can today. For the others who unquestioningly followed and accepted the party lines and even lived according to the state system laid down by the soviets, this system was a revelation. Spying and the humiliation of others found its support amongst the masses.

I had to live in this state, which was not a home for me, for twenty-nine years. There are too many horrible memories that I relate to this period and these memories still follow me. In hindsight, my biggest problem was not with the ruling powers that I had to put up with, but much rather the environment which in I had to live. Neighbors, colleagues and 'friends' couldn't understand my resistance against this regime. They thought I was crazy because they themselves had no problems with the pressure. My resistance made them uncomfortable.

I was forced to take a stand because my constant questioning of and resistance to the system was dangerous. So many others simply unquestioningly handed over their children to state organized institutions and tolerated that their children were foddered with an intolerant ideology which did not leave room for any other forms of thinking or living. Because I did not let my daughter join the socialist youth movement group the "Young Pioneers", I was deemed an unfit father and was threatened with the removal of my custody rights. With great efforts I was able to avoid this from happening by emphasizing that this would go against the very rights this socialist state always promoted. Only a few people truly vied to go against the state and the lack of civil courage is what enabled such as state to exist for so long. When my family and I were given permission to leave the GDR in 1975, the regime stated:

"Mr. Richter and his wife are hereby granted permission to emigrate, according to the decision made by the district counselor and the ministry of the interior on August 13th, 1975. Effective immediately all family members' citizenship has been revoked. Mr. Richter, along with his wife, have a deep seeded negative political attitude towards our socialist system. As a result, they have not participated in any elections and have continuously violated our laws. Mr. Richter has also been charged with passport fraud and illegally helping others escape. In order to hinder any further negative influence he may exert on family and acquaintances in the GDR, an entry ban has been issued."

This ban was effective until 1989. As you can read between the lines, it seems I must have really stepped on some toes! My persistence worked.
Today, no one can say to me: "What could we have done?" But turning a blind eye is also a form of participation.
It pains me when I hear people say: "It wasn't so bad in the GDR."
Didn't people say that after the war, too? "The Third Reich wasn't so bad. Adolf built us a highway."

 

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